Now this is how you do a franchise novel! My last review covered my disdain over Jim Lee’s terrible attempt at the movie, The Dark Crystal, one of my favorite films from the ‘80’s. I needed something to cleanse my pallet, as it were, and besides, it’s Halloween season. Give me something scary. Let me wash that bad taste out of my mouth with acid-spewing, chest-bursting, throat-ripping terror. Aliens is my absolute favorite scary movie of all time. I know I’m not alone in that regard, because whenever someone mentions the words, “Aliens,” “xenomorph,” or “space marine,” what is the first thing that pops in your mind? Mrs. Sigourney Weaver either holding a pulse rifle duct-taped to a flamethrower, or her trusty pincer-clawed construction mech, ready to travel the stars and kick space-monster ass. The characters are realistic, the xenomorphs, are terrifying, and the strength, determination, ingenuity and care in Ellen Ripley is incredible. I could go on all day about this movie, and so can 20th Century Fox for that matter. I know that this isn’t the first Alien novel out there, just the first one I’ve ever read, and it hits all the high notes of the series.
Allen Decker is a colonial engineer on the planet New Galveston. Everything is going well for him until he has to survey a strange dead zone near his home colony. The titular “Sea of Sorrows” is a stretch of toxic black sand that, by all accounts, shouldn’t be there. Just as he’s about to investigate it one of the vehicles falls into a cave-in and traps Allen’s leg underneath it. When he gets sent back to Earth on medical leave he starts having nightmares, and Weyland-Yutani, the evil company from the movies, takes on interest. It turns out that underneath the black sand is a xenomorph hive, and good old W-Y Inc. wants one of those man-eating monstrosities for study. Why? They’re evil and overconfident. That’s why. Anyone’s who’s seen the movies knows that. This is one of the book’s strong points as opposed to Shadows of the Dark Crystal. Moore knows that the most of his readers are going to be Aliens fans, and they know the preliminary details: alien monsters are bad, but the Company is worse. The difference is where Lee dragged his clumsy “plot twists” over the whole damn book, Moore gets right to the point in the first act so he can get to the real story as soon as possible. I have to make sure that I keep this review on this book, and not a continued complaint about the last one. No promises.
There’s a reason why Decker has such vivid night terrors about a monster he hasn’t seen (yet). He’s the long-lost descendant of Lt. Ellen Ripley. Somehow he’s retained his great-great-great grandmother’s memories of the xenomorphs. I don’t get it either. It sounds like the plot to Assassin’s Creed, but while it doesn’t make sense, it doesn’t trip up the story too much. Fortunately, Decker doesn’t need one of those goofy brain-scanner thingies from the Creed games to sense when the aliens are close. Unfortunately, both Weyland-Yutani and the aliens know who he is. W-Y knows him as the descendant of the woman that cost them the chance at obtaining a new mega-weapon in the name of evil, and the aliens know him as “the Destroyer.” W-Y is willing and able to threaten his family over a two-hundred year old grudge, while the xenomorphs just want to kill on sight.
Okay, now I have a problem with the story. The time gap between the movie and the book. It’s been almost three centuries since the colony on LV426 went ka-boom (sorry. Spoilers). In all that time the Company has kept a debit report on Ellen Ripley’s family? They’ve been holding it this entire time just for Decker’s name to pop up? Not only that but they haven’t found some other dumb schmuck to grab them a live alien? Not once? Maybe it happened in the other novels. I don’t know (This is the first one I’ve read). I suppose that’s because they need to keep to the staples of the film that I mentioned earlier. This book is technically a movie sequel. One of the reasons why I hate most horror movies is because of their weak plots, especially sequels. Slasher films come immediately to mind. The audience wants to see their favorite psycho-killer on the loose again, so let’s send another batch of idiots out to Crystal Lake again! The Alien series has to send out more space marines to the slaughterhouse, so the Company will always be on the lookout for unlucky volunteers. Get that Decker guy on the phone! Then call up those mercenaries that’ll do anything insanely stupid for cash! We need plausible deniability!
However one of the strengths of Aliens and Sea of Sorrows as opposed to most horror series is that the characters are actual characters. Even if they’re going to die horrible deaths they all have their traits and personalities. There’s somebody there with something to say, whereas most series just keep a corral of annoying stock characters, like the horny guy and the dumb blonde, that the audience wants to see get eliminated. Here, I felt a sense of remorse whenever someone died because they had to do something important aside from become a xenomorph’s victim. I’d read a chapter and think, “Oh no, Dr. Silas died? But he was going to figure out a way to keep the aliens from reaching the surface and killing the colonists above (minor spoilers)!” It’s a good thing when even minor characters can provide major plot points.
The book also provides a great sense of mystery. People remember the Alien movies for the scary monsters and strong heroine, but there are still many unanswered questions, like where did the xenomorphs come from? And how did they get from one planet to the next if they’re “just animals, man?” Part of me still wonders about the history of Earth and the galaxy as a whole (Moore mentions that they had to terra-form Earth just like they did for all those inhospitable planets. That’s neat. Can we see more of that please?). Here on New Galveston, the mercenaries and company scientists not only find the xenomorph hive, but an entire abandoned city inside. The hive took over the place, and it looks like the survivors tried but failed to escape. The first thing the team discovers is a crashed spaceship near the city (sound familiar?) that still has enough power, and I assume protective shielding, to interfere with their communications and survey drones. So not only are they underground with God alone knows how many flesh-eating nightmares, but they can’t call home or send their RC robots in instead.
Too bad the Company doesn’t care. Andrea Rollins, the W-Y rep that’s running this operation, is willing to throw however many mercenaries, company workers, and long-lost grandchildren of action movie stars at the hive until they get results. She blackmails the pilot to the mission, Pritchett, to lie, cheat and steal on her behalf to get some intel (and samples) of those xenomorphs. In the movie, Burke, was just one man acting alone in his plans to backstab the team, but here, Rollins has it all figured out. She’s not acting on the spur of the moment, but planning everything from her office in orbit (meaning she was smart enough to not go near the hive). She’s the best villain that the book has, and ripe potential for a sequel.
My final thoughts on the book are it’s good, but really it’s for Aliens fans. It sticks to the formula from the movies, but still has the guts to stray off here and there without getting lost. It uses the guidelines, but not as a straightjacket the way Lee did with Dark Crystal. Part of me wants another one, but as its own independent series. There’s a strong cliffhanger at the end of the book, but I feel like it’s going to be picked up by some other random goober hired by 20th Century Fox, not Moore. I’d love it if he’d take the series in his own direction with Decker and the other survivors fighting against Rollins and the Aliens. Maybe, just like the movies, the second book will outshine the first one (enjoyable it may be). That means I’ll give Aliens: Sea of Sorrows a…
Don’t cry, “Game over,” just yet man.
Listening to: Smooth McGroove
Reading: 50 Weapons that Changed the Course of History
Playing: Civilization 5